Mobile retail experience

When should you treat online and offline customers differently?

23rd Aug 2016

For retailers, it’s well understood that no two customers are the same. Each one buys through different channels, responds to marketing in differing ways, shops at different frequencies and has varying levels of loyalty.

It's this diversity which makes retailing – and retail marketing – so interesting. And it means that small independents should think carefully about buyer personas, and about ecommerce versus the shop buying experience, along the way.

If one approach to the challenge lies in personalisation of the online offer, at a more basic level the smaller retailer is grappling with the basic point that its online customers and its in-store customers are likely to be very different and to have different priorities.

Husbands and wives

Jo Stroud, the founder of jewellery and accessories business Fabulous Collections, says her online and offline customer profiles are dramatically different.

“The customers that come into our retail stores are mostly women who want an experience and to enjoy browsing the items we stock,” says Stroud. “So for them we work hard to create an engaging environment, and we back this up with other events that drive face-to-face engagement.

“For example, we have a garden party we throw at The Bath Priory Hotel and a similar event we put on in Leamington where customers can meet the designers behind the brands. We also do fashion shows to bring the jewellery to life.”

But it’s a different kind of customer who shops online with Fabulous.

“Our ecommerce offer works differently,” says Stroud. “Here we are selling established brands and designers that benefit from their familiarity to many clients, making online purchasing and gift-buying easier for customers to embrace. Typically we might be selling to a husband looking to buy an item of jewellery for his wife and he has different needs: he needs to know he is a trusted brand that his wife will recognise and is likely to enjoy, and he needs to know the product will arrive speedily and discreetly. As a retailer, it’s clearly crucial that we understand the difference between this kind of online customer and those we encounter in-store!”

Value-added vs cheap customers

Marc Robinson, managing director of Cardiff Sports Nutrition (CSN), is another entrepreneur whose High Street shop functions distinctly differently to his online offer in terms of the customer profile.

The business supplies sports nutrition and sports supplements from many well-known brands, and it stocks the same inventory online and in-store. But that’s where the similarity mostly ends.

“I think you have an advantage as a small retailer on the high street when you move online”, says Robinson. “Customer service is at the heart of the high-street business offering and that means that every day our small team is learning on the job. You find out what customers want to learn about and to buy in-store, and you find out why some don’t want to shop online for the purchase they are making.”

Robinson says that by having a high-street presence and the ecommerce offering means he and his team are naturally reflecting on the distinctions between the two, and the different customer types, all the time.

What are the key differences between CSN’s two customer bases?

“In-store customers are more loyal and you have more of a relationship. Online it is more of a price-driven sale – very often customers are buying online because they want an item more cheaply. But customers still want quality. We aren’t the cheapest, but we are selling high-quality, trusted products and customers are reassured by our high-street presence to buy online with confidence.”

In its next phase, Robinson wants to close the gap between in-store and online by launching a web chat service through the site that will share more good advice online via ebooks and more.

“We have a lot of experience we can share in-store. We need to bottle up that good advice and share it online too. It makes sense.

“Offering web chat is a natural step to take, to the extent that there is a lot you cannot say online for compliance reasons about products that can naturally share in conversation via web chat.”

Here are seven customer types identified by retailers - and how they behave in-store vs online. 

  • The impatient customer: Easily frustrated, digital-biased customer and not afraid to say so.
  • The bargain hunter: Enjoys shopping, and shops often online and in-store; likes to bag a bargain.
  • The researcher: Thoroughly researches every aspect of a product online and in conversation with shop staff.
  • The returner: High-volume shopper who is picky and returns a lot of items.
  • The showroomer: Looks in-store, but buys online looking to save money.
  • The suggestible shopper: Dream customer who responds to marketing and likes getting advice.


Christian Annesley is staff writer for BusinessZone. This article is based on a feature that originally appeared on MyCustomer sister site BusinessZone



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